A lightweight travel tripod is a handy piece of equipment for every photographer to have in their gear collection. There are times where larger, heavier, “workhorse” tripods are not the right tool for the job, or places where they are too cumbersome to transport and use. On the lookout for a new one, a few months ago I got my hands on the Oben CT-3551 Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod and BE-113T Ball Head.
After unpacking it my first thought was “Wow, this thing is light, I’m going to break it.” But, half a year later with pretty constant use, it works great and shows only a few signs of wear and tear. In that time, it has been used for landscape, travel, and macro photography, in various locations and conditions.
The Oben CT-3551 Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod
This is probably one of the more adjustable tripods I have owned, with 5 leg sections, 3 leg angle settings, and a reverse folded leg position for transport. The long center post is removable as well as reversible for low angle photography, transformed into a short center post, or removed and attached to one of the tripods removable legs to create a monopod.
It is also a rather tough little tripod, it’s carbon fiber construction has stood up well to my use. When fully extended the legs show a fair amount of flex, but that is expected for this class of tripod. Remember, this is a compact travel tripod, it is lightweight so you can take it places where a heavy-duty one isn’t practical. However, that low weight comes with a compromise, a carrying capacity of only 13.2lbs. For max safety and stability, my personal rule of thumb is to have a load capacity of 2-3 times the equipment mounted on it. The Oben’s capacity is fine for lightweight DSLR/lens combos, mirrorless, point and shoots, and photo accessories. However, using a large lens on a large DSLR will hit that capacity limit quickly, which could lead to stability issues with the tripod.
The only issue I have had so far was a small set screw on the center column that prevented the column from being lowered all the way, or removed and reversed. I decided to just take out the set screw altogether, and have not had any issues from that choice. I assume this is an added safety measure to prevent the column from being accidentally pulled out, so remove this screw at your own risk.
The BE-113T Ball Head
Overall, I found the ballhead to work well, panning and adjusting smoothly. When you tighten the knobs they stay in place. One of the worst things a ball head can do is “flop”, suddenly releasing tension, and letting your camera flop over to the side. I have not had it flop, and am comfortable leaving my camera in place on it even when moving the tripod around.
The only issue I have had with it was the development of a little “creep”. No, not a small mean person. When I say a little creep, I’m referring to when the panning knob is locked down and there is a slight bit of give allowing it to “creep” back and forth. If holding on to your camera while shooting, this wobble/shimmy/creep, or whatever you like to call it, was noticeable and could cause a loss of sharpness in your images. In the case of the BE113T, it was caused by a slight loosening of one of the three screws on the underside of the ball head. However, this was an easy fix, I just removed each screw, placed a little thread-locker on it, and screwed it in tightly. If you encounter this issue, do this for each screw one at a time. Removing all three at once could disassemble the head, putting it back together is probably not going to be much fun.
Do I Really Need This?
As I do with all my gear reviews, to answer the question, “Do I really need this?”, I’ll break it down into a few more questions:
- Does it fit the type of photography I like to do? Some yes, some no. While it’s not the best fit for my all my photography subjects and adventures, I find it useful as a landscape tripod, a travel/street tripod, or a “photography assistant”. This is definitely not designed to handle heavy loads like the large lenses I use for wildlife and adventure sports but handles lighter equipment well. Removed from the tripod, the head retains the 13.2 lb capacity and is a good compact choice for use on my Platypod Ultra as well. I have used this combination often to hold cameras, lights, flashes, and other photo gear.
- Can I take it to the places I like to go? Definitely, weighing in at a mere 2.6lbs and folding down to just 16 inches, you can take this just about anywhere.
- Will it survive me? So far, yes. It has been used in conditions from cold rainy days in the Dakota Badlands to sweltering heat in the wetlands of Florida. It has been checked through in my luggage, strapped to backpacks for long hikes, thrown in the back of my truck for local shoots, and generally well used.
- Will it replace something I already use and do a better job? Not replace, but complement. I’ve wanted to add a lightweight travel tripod to my photo arsenal for a while, there are times and places where I don’t want to bring my big Gitzo GT3543LS Systematic. In addition to using it as a dedicated tripod, it’s able to accept various common photography screw thread sizes and adapters to hold LED lights, flashes, tripod heads, small cameras, and more.
- What would I change?
- The quick twist leg locks are nice, just one flick of the wrist and you can loosen or tighten them. But, the downside is they are almost too easy to adjust. There is little tension, as soon as you twist the leg lock it is released. If not completely tightened it could collapse the leg fast and topple.
- I am not a fan of the included quick release plate. I truly wish manufacturers would stop using this type of tightening screw in plates, they have a bad tendency in all brands to loosen up. While this one is a little better since it has stop screws and a hex head for better tightening than the standard “coin in the slot” method, it still noticeably loosened on me in a short time. I recommend using an Arca-Swiss compatible plate that has a proper mounting screw, or is designed specifically for your camera (I’m a big L-Bracket fan Editor’s note: Custom fitted L-Brackets for practically every camera are on ReallyRightStuff.com).
- It is a little short for my taste, at 55″ with the legs fully extended, and up to 65″ with the center column fully raised, I have to hunch a little when using it (one of the “no no’s” from my article “Tripod Trip-Ups“). One of the few times with my 5’11” frame I have ever complained about being too tall!
- Will it help me get the shots I want? Yes, especially for landscape and travel photos and as a second set of hands. Having gone through a mess of medical issues a few years ago, I’ve learned to simplify my gear and work lighter in the field. This tripod gives me an option for support that I can easily carry anywhere without getting loaded down. My challenge will be to remember not to overload it. While it is a good travel tripod, it is definitely not a big lens tripod!
- Would I recommend it? It’s well built and budget-friendly, coming in under $300 for a carbon fiber model. It won’t take the place of a big tripod for long lenses, but it is a solid option for someone who wants a highly portable, adjustable, and compact tripod.
- Oben CT-3551 Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod and BE-113T Ball Head
- Canon 5D Mark III
- Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens
- Tamron SP 180mm f/3.5 Di Macro Lens
- Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD
- Platypod Ultra
Like this article? Follow this link to read more of my photo tips and techniques. Jason’s Articles at Photofocus
You can find out more about Jason, including his photo workshops, at HahnNaturePhotography.com.